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Ok so I've just started my two daughters on their first ever Pathfinder campaign using the pre-built TC1 "Into the Haunted Forest". It's going ok, they are having fun, but they seem to be overlooking some obvious questions that their characters should be asking.

For instance, after retrieving a stolen dagger and it then being confiscated (again) by the local sheriff, the girls jump at the chance to go on a quest to clear their name and be rewarded with the dagger but seem to have completely forgotten about the gang of mercs that accosted them (attempting to steal the same dagger) when the girls first entered the area.

Now I could force the issue, they will of course run into the gang again once the reach the forest, but am I hoping for too much from these new players that they might actually ask the Sheriff about the mercs prior to taking off on their adventure? It just seems to me that one would always cover their bases before moving forward in a campaign and yet my two young ones are just gung ho, ready to jump in and damn the consequences (apologies if that is not an acceptable method of communication here, trying to get the point across).

Any advice? This is actually my first Pathfinder campaign as well, though I'm well versed in RPG's in general (check my profile, I've played at least a half dozen). The girls seem to be enjoying it but I just want to make sure they get the whole experience.

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Advice might hinge on the kids' ages. Suggesting 6-year-olds take notes probably isn't helpful, for instance. –  Hey I Can Chan Mar 11 at 5:06
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Remember the rule of three for hints: if you want your players to find out about something, leave at least three references to it in the game. This improves chances that they'll at least catch on one and all the hints reinforce each other. –  leokhorn Mar 14 at 21:55
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I just want to comment on everything that you guys have posted so far - you guys are GREAT! I have never met a nicer and more knowledgeable group of people! These are all great ideas and I will keep them all in mind as I play with my family. As it turns out, they found the initial experience fun enough that my eldest daughter has invited a couple of her friends over this week and is pushing me to host a game that includes them! Girls playing RPG's who knew? –  HeavyAl Mar 15 at 1:15

9 Answers 9

up vote 35 down vote accepted

Children don't have the depth of view or span of attention that adults have. If your players are young, it's not a bad thing to railroad them a little bit. You might do this by simply "replacing" the information via some other means: an old beggar they show kindness to tells them he's heard a rumor about the gang, a respected character lovingly chides them for their faulty memory, a friendly eavesdropper says "If I was you, I'd go ask the Sheriff", etc. By having benign characters provide this additional information, the girls will gradually learn that there's always more information out there, and finally begin to look for it themselves.

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Thanks! The old beggar idea is spot on! I'll give that a shot. And yes, they don't have the depth of attention but they've been bugging me to play this game with them for months so I finally caved. –  HeavyAl Mar 11 at 3:25
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Other ideas that might help: remove distractions from the room, put on some ambient or classical music (no words), slow your pace when describing things, speak more quietly so they have to listen more carefully, give one player "something to think about" when the action moves to the other one's character. You may be the GM, but you're also Dad, so they expect you to be helping them figure this game out. –  As If Mar 11 at 3:38
    
Yeah, quiet is a very difficult thing to find in our house! The tv goes non stop and if not the tv then my son is raging on his guitar. It's kind of helter-skelter 24/7. We are all kind of night-owls though so perhaps we could do a late night game (of course mom is going to grump at me for keeping the nine year old up). All good ideas, Mr AsIf, thank you very much for your suggestions! –  HeavyAl Mar 11 at 3:44
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I +1's As Ifs comment specifically for the "You may be the GM, but you're also Dad". Depending on their age, it might be too much to ask for them to recognize the distinction. –  Martijn Mar 11 at 11:10

In addition to the issues caused by your players being children, this is a common issue for tabletop games in general: players rarely focus on what you think is important, and rarely do what you expected them to do. If you've played with a specific group for a while, you get a sense for how they might act; joining or starting a new group with different players can come with a major culture shock.

As an example, our current DM only DM'd for one specific group before, and they were full of players who had been playing a long time and were naturally focused on min-maxing and picking the best of all possible actions. I invited him to DM for a group I'd put together of two players who are fairly new to tabletop roleplaying and two players who prefer character-based gaming rather than "winning". He's had to massively revise his style to account for the fact that we rarely pick the obvious "win" option and instead are more interested in exploring our possibilities and trying non-obvious solutions.

Therefore, it might just be that your daughters naturally gravitate toward a more hands-on, feet-first, gung-ho style of play than your previous players, who may have been more cautious planner-types. You may want to adjust the campaign so that, for example, important information can be found on the bodies of dead mercenaries as well as or instead of by interviewing people in the town before going.

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Use recaps. At the beginning of each scene or encounter, recap on what has happened so far in a general, unforced and impartial way so as to remind them of options that they might have forgotten about.

I have issues with this kind of thing with a table full of adults, so I really am not surprised that it's something you are encountering with your children.

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Big +1 for recaps. They're useful for any group that doesn't take good notes for themselves, and are a great tool to guide folks toward key bits of information. –  Jeff Fry Mar 12 at 1:13

It just seems to me that one would always cover their bases before moving forward in a campaign

If this is something that people do in other forms of fiction that you share with your kids then sure, if they aren't doing it they've probably forgotten the mercs or overlooked their significance. "And then the Prince and Princess checked the likely weather for their honeymoon destination given the time of year, and packed accordingly, to ensure that they would live happily ever after". Otherwise no, they have no reason to know that it's a trope of the particular fictional style of RPGs (and not all RPGs at that), that you're expected to anticipate upcoming problems to that extent. We met the mercs, we argued with the mercs, we dealt with them. The mercs went away. What, now we have to guess where they went and whether they'll be back?

Also consider their enjoyment of being (in effect) tested on their ability to notice, recall, and act upon this kind of information. This is probably correlated with age, but not completely.

Young children's fiction doesn't generally have a lot of backreferences like "aha!, that's why the pizza delivery guy in the first scene was making a cellphone call when we opened the door! If only we'd thought of that earlier we'd have solved the mystery before all this trouble!". Obviously you know your own kids, but as a rule of thumb (a) don't expect players to anticipate too much more than they would watching a TV show, (b) players are stupid. More stupid than the same person when not being a player.

You say the younger is 9, so presumably they're old enough to appreciate detective/mystery-style fiction in which the protagonists are expected to do a lot of thinking. So possibly all they need is to learn that even though this looks like a fantasy romp, it doesn't obey the same rules as fantasy romp fiction. So introduce elements that ask them to think through the likely motivations and behaviour of NPCs who are currently out of sight, reward them for it, get them into the habit.

For this particular example I would certainly want to "forgive" them for failing to plan ahead for the mercenaries even if the usual style of the game is that they should be punished for that lapse. Either make sure they have the resources to deal with them anyway, or else feed them the info that they need to prepare without them asking. Since you're teaching them to play the game this could be as blatant as asking them OOC, "what do you think happened to those mercs from before?". If you handle it IC, though, maybe introduce something to suggest that if they'd thought of it themselves they'd be better off than they are, to encourage them to do it next time instead of relying on the game being easy.

Or, you know, TPK and lesson learned ;-)

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I think you are expecting too much from them in their first adventures. Ignoring that they are kids, even adults may not think in such a tactical manner. Why would they know to 'cover their bases'? Its completely outside most people's life experiences. Experienced gamers know because they've learned the hard way what happens if they don't. Inexperienced gamers haven't learned those lessons yet.

My advice is to throw some things back at them so they start to learn some of the consequences of not thinking tactically in a non-lethal way. They walk into a crypt... show them why they should always prop open the door so it doesn't close and lock behind them. Little things like that will get them thinking like adventurers. Just don't go overboard, or they'll get the impression no matter what they do they'll be screwing up, which ultimately may turn them off on gaming.

Addendum: Enjoy it while it lasts. As someone who games in a group where everyone has been gaming for 30+ years, sometimes its very refreshing to GM a group of new players who are encountering common adventuring situations for the very first time.

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Also, let's not forget that some players -- possibly, though from your responses, not too likely: your daughters -- like playing characters who aren't tactical / strategic / etc experts... even if the players themselves are. Some find it relaxing to play a reckless and careless [and possibly also IQ 9, WIS 8] barbarian, for example, after a hard day's work of software development or business planning, and to hell with minding all the details. This approach does not necessarily spoil the fun of gaming: on the contrary, it can enrich the experience. It all depends on the group (including both players and GM alike.)

I think my best advice would be:

Bring on the consequences, and try and make it clear in-game what they're resulting from. Let the players decide whether their characters learn from the experience.

Don't forget to differentiate between players and their characters. If you think and see that the players get distressed instead of their characters, then maybe it's time to have a tactical / strategic / etc discussion, out of game.

What this burdens you with, of course, is that you'll have to improvise and possibly deviate from a published / scripted adventure. All the more challenge to you, a chance to improve your own skills as well. :)

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To add to some already great answers here are my 2 cents:

Think about the age your aiming at

Some people are mature for their age, some are a little bit more childish and many fall in the middle between those 2 polars. What I'm trying to say here is that there are different kinds of gaming styles with some of them coming out of the player's age. Are you GMing this game the same way that you'll GM it for an all-adult group? Are you GMing it more like a cartoon or something?

Think about the media that your daughters consume, is it more over-the-top high-pitched adventure style stories with much action and not so much talking or consequences? Is it more of the more "mature" style of stories, with morals and consequences and the like? Tailor your game toward the media they consume, with particular adjustments to their ages.

Remind them of the important things

It's not enough to tell them once that something is important. You need the second time and even the third one to really remember and grasp it. Your daughters are no different to that. Make sure that they always remember the big important facts and find subtle ways to remind them when this is not the case. A barkeeper, a priest, an employer and so on, remind them this things through NPCs and dreams, through loot on dead bodies and descriptions of the bad guys misdeeds…

Make it closer to their world

It is much easier to connect to things which are closer to what one knows. If they prefer stories that revolve around girls, for example, making most of the characters females will help them with creating the buy-in into the story, resulting in a greater connection to it and from that more energy will go to understand the story-world and through it the big picture. Try to understand what they like and what they want and address it in your games, it will make the grasping of the big plot that much easier.

Don't stress too much the rules

Roleplaying is not much of an easy activity. They leave their comfort zones and enter a magical and fantastical land that lives only in the imagination of the three of you. It's different and complicated. Add to that that they need to master the rules a complicated rulesystem and BAM it's that much harder. Even before their age which makes it even harder, they're new players. Remember that a long time ago you were also a new player. Remember how hard it was to you and try to make it as easy for them as you can. When the rules problem is out of the way, understanding the story is again much easier as there are fewer things to think about.

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There is a good reason talking animals and other such creatures appear in cartoons and other such things. In addition to playing comic relief they are another avenue to present information, especially in this scenario. Just be mindful they are approaching things from their understanding of the world. Over use them and it becomes railroading, under use and they become fluff.

Dont be afraid to let your daughters fall. (Note: I said fall not fail) They will learn more from constant interaction and a stream of successes and failures than by being handheld through it. Just like life you have to let them make mistakes even though you want to correct them. Just be supportive.

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Gung ho adventure seems totally appropriate. That's what it's all about, after all. Embrace it! And don't expect too sophisticated play from new players, particularly young ones.

Perhaps when they run into the mercs again, they'll realize they could have known that. Or not, and then you can enjoy the unintended surprise.

My advice is: embrace their style of play, rather than forcing your own on them. They'll learn and develop and hopefully have tons of fun along the way. And so will you. And that is what "the whole experience" is really about: creating your own style, your own play, your own way of having fun. It's forcing a different style of play on them that really denies them the full experience.

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